For the majority of Americans, October 31st is synonymous with Halloween and is a time to dress up, set out jack-o-lanterns and hope you don’t get a stomach ache from devouring a night’s haul of candy. However, October 31st represents something far greater than just costumes and candy, instead it is a celebration of an event that literally turned the known world upside down, and even today, we are feeling its impact.
500 years ago on October 31st 1517, Martin Luther nailed 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany. This act that challenged the authority of the Pope and the Roman Catholic institution would be the start to what is historically known as the Protestant Reformation.
Martin Luther’s defiance was not only about Catholic abuses and corruption, the deeper and underlying motivation for this bold move to challenge Pope and Council was really about Scripture itself and its authority.
For centuries prior to the Reformation, the Bible had taken a back seat in the life of the church and the individual Christian. Rome’s tradition reigned and as a consequence the Word of God and the precious Gospel lay hidden from believers. In fact, the average Christian couldn’t open and read the Bible, partly because the only translation was not in a common language (Latin) and frankly, they simply weren’t allowed to. So tight was Rome’s grip on the Scriptures that Rome alone had the authority to read and to interpret the Bible and because the Scriptures lay chained (at times literally) to Roman Catholicism, the average person had no way of knowing if what they were hearing was true.
But that all changed in the Reformation.
For the first time in all of history, Martin Luther was able to translate the entire Bible in the common language of the people, thus putting the Scriptures into the hands of average people like you and I. The marvel of actually having the Word of God and reading it for yourself caused the French Reformer John Calvin to coin the phrase, Post Tenebras Lux, after darkness, light. People who were in darkness now can open up the pages of Scripture and come into contact with the light of the world, Christ himself.
As a result of the Bible becoming available during the Reformation, a core tenant emerged, and one that exists today is called Sola Scriptura—Scriptures alone. The Bible is the only authority by which is sufficient for everything concerning life and faith, not Popes nor princes nor councils of men, but only the Word of God.
Now on one hand what had happened in the Reformation was revolutionary, in that an individual armed with the Scriptures alone could adequately discern errors such as Indulgences, Purgatory and a salvation by works, regardless if an authoritarian Institution deems them to be true. Yet on the other, what the Reformation brought back to life was how Christianity has always intended to be experienced, according to and with the Scriptures alone. Every word of the Bible is “God breathed” (2 Tim 3:16) and due to its inerrancy and sufficiency, every believer is called upon to study, meditate and delight in the Scriptures (Jos. 1:8, 119:174, 2 Tim. 2:15). Why? Because it is only through the Bible that anyone can come to experience Christ and the gospel. As Martin Luther said, “The Bible is the cradle wherein Christ is laid.”
From 1517 to 2017, the Reformation’s impact still exists today in the hands of many faithful Bible-believing Christians along with its call back to its high view of Scripture. Yet the rejection of Biblical authority and the dismissal of a high view of the Scriptures from both secular, and sadly enough, from churches that are products of the Reformation, is much in existence.
The Bible and its message in many churches have been removed in place of more “relevant” topics that are immediately practical, yet not so eternally beneficial. Even 500 years after the Reformation, with an unprecedented availability of the Scriptures, Biblical literacy is at an all-time low among professing Christians. This sobering fact only means that the Reformation is not over, and the need for us to get back to the Bible is needed as much today, as in the 16th century.
May this 500 year anniversary of the Reformation stir you to appreciate the Bible you have in your hands, and for you to carry on in the legacy of the Reformation to semper reformanda, always be reforming.